Captain remains in Suez Canal hotel as “representative” of abandoned vessel

The potentially problematic legal position of the captains of vessels when a ship’s owner goes bankrupt or abandons a vessel has been put in the spotlight in the case of bulk carrier Kenan Mete (IMO 8701935), which remains, abandoned, in the Egyptian port of Adabiya.

Turkish captain Vehbi Kara was the “last man standing” on the vessel.

In February the captain’s position was dire he emailed on the 11th that there was no electricity, food or water on the vessel and that he was alone apart from an infestation of mice, which made so much noise that he could not sleep.

The Panamanian-flagged vessel has been alongside the port since the end of June 2020, when Istanbul-based ship owner Blodwen Marina abandoned the vessel and its crew. There were 25 seafarers on board from Georgia, India, Russia, Syria, Turkey and Ukraine.

A dispute emerged between the Istanbul-based shipowner and the Kenan Mete’s crew over Blodwen Marina’s failure to pay wages. The dispute initially prevented the crew from leaving with their outstanding wages. In September an intervention from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) led to all 25 seafarers being paid four months’ wages by the ship’s insurer.

The ITF said that many of the crew had not received wages for the 12 months prior to the vessel arriving in Egypt and that some had even gone as long as 18 months without pay.

The ITF reported the crew abandoned to the International Labour Organization in October 2020. The ITF began to push for crew to be allowed to disembark, but this proved problematic. After hundreds of hours of work over more than two months, the seafarers’ claims for outstanding wages from the sale of the ship were submitted to the Egyptian courts overseeing the sale.

In December, the ILO/IMO ‘Seafarer Crisis Action Team’ wrote to the Egyptian authorities stressing the port state obligation to ensure crew were repatriated according to the Maritime Labour Convention.

Then, on December 14th 2020, one of the seafarers tested positive for Covid-19. The ship and its crew were put under a strict quarantine.

Between October 2020 and January 2021 all of the crew left the vessel and returned to their families, apart from the captain.

When Egyptian authorities seized the vessel on 15 January this year, the ship had more than $500m in debts. According to the ILO abandonment database the court nominated Captain Kara as the judicial guard until the vessel could be sold at auction – with proceeds used to settle some or all of the ship’s debts.

Captain Kara claimed in February that he was being tortured by being detained on an unsafe vessel. He said that “the action taken against me, is against human rights. I am having a nervous breakdown. I have heart disease. I approach death every day because of my illnesses. I have to be hospitalized. I’m dying and asking for help,” he wrote in emails.

The Egyptian authorities said that Captain Kara had to stay until the ship’s agent assigned another master via the courts. However, on the evening of February 14th, following pressure from the ITF, the IMO, the Turkish embassy in Cairo, and the ship’s P&I club, he was permitted to disembark the ship, the ITF said.

He was allowed to go to a nearby hotel, but not without conditions. He has remained in the same bedroom ever since.

Egyptian authorities continue to insist that he is the legal guardian of the ship.

The ITF is still seeking steps that would allow the captain to be repatriated.

Maritime authorities in Egypt have said that they do not object to the captain’s and that this was an issue of the court’s making.

The ITF said that the maritime authorities could have been working arrange a reliever with the consent of the court, but that they had not. 1990-built, Panama-flagged, 8,897 gt Kenan Mete is owned by Blodwen Marine SA care of manager RoyalMar Shipping & Ship Management Co Ltd of Istanbul, Turkey